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Britain’s bus world in upheaval

Britain’s bus industry underwent a massive transformation in the last twenty years of the 20th century, first with the deregulation of local bus services outside London, then with the privatisation of most of the country’s public sector operators. The National Bus Company, which ran over 15,000 buses and coaches in 1980, had vanished by the end of 1988. The bus operations of the Passenger Transport Executives – involving over 10,000 vehicles – were privatised. So, too, were the bus operations of London Transport, the Scottish Bus Group and most municipally-owned fleets. 

The changes were dramatic. In the face of deregulation many big operators reduced their fleets – and at the same time cut jobs. Minibuses came and went. New private sector groups appeared, some only lasting a few years. Old established liveries vanished and colourful new ones emerged, then often disappeared. Small operators had a go at running buses; not all survived. It was a chaotic time. 

Twenty Turbulent Years records the major changes of this time in words and pictures. It aims to capture a rapidly changing world: the instability of the highly-competitive late 1980s and early 1990s, followed by the emergence of new, stable, groups whose operations covered much of the country.  


Twenty Turbulent Years: The Transformation of Britain's Buses 1980-2000, by Peter Rowlands and Stewart J Brown


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A transformation in vehicles, operators, liveries

popup|Forty-nine municipal bus operations remained in 1980, and some of their fleets still still included front-engined buses, as well as some unusual bespoke bodywork.

In most of Britain old-established names and liveries disappeared as public sector companies were privatised, an evolving process that saw the creation of new groups with new ideas. At its worst, deregulation saw low-cost operators with old buses attack established networks. On the other hand vehicle quality improved in many areas, and the best of the new breed of operators embraced service quality and marketing as useful tools in a competitive environment.

As the PTEs' bus operations were deregulated and privatised, new bus types and liveries emerged, sometimes uneasily juxtaposed with the old

From this ...
An ECW-bodied Bristol FL Lodekka at the start of the period
An ECW-bodied Bristol FL Lodekka at the start of the period
... to this
An Alexander Royale-bodied Volvo Olympian at the end of the period
An Alexander Royale-bodied Volvo Olympian at the end of the period
Publishing details

Twenty Turbulent Years: The Transforation of Britain’s Bus Industry,

Peter Rowlands and
Stewart J Brown

Hard cover
250 mm by 215 mm


Full colour photographs
Over 275


£30 + p&p

Buy this book now »

Features include
  • Charts showing the sale of NBC, PTE, SBG and London bus operations by date
  • Status of municipal bus operations at start and end of period
  • Major company acqusitions by the big three bus groups, listed by date
  • Contemporary brochure extracts and advertisements for operators and vehicles

Scottish privatisation
The Scottish Bus Group saw a brief flowering of new liveries and the arrival of unfamiliar vehicle types before privatisation changed everything

The Scottish Bus Group reorganised its bus operations in 1985 to cope better with deregulation. New liveries appeared, but most were short-lived as subsequent reorganisations followed by privatisation changed SBG beyond recognition. By 2000 most former SBG services were being run by First and Stagecoach.

Other developments
Ex-London DMS Fleetlines and then Routemasters found unexpected second lives throughout Britain as London disposed of them prematurely.

London Buses reduced its fleet by 1,500 vehicles in the 1980s and many of its redundant buses found further service elsewhere. Sections of the book consider this, along with how the effects of deregulation and privatisation sounded the death knell for many famous manufacturers including Leyland, Bristol, MCW and Duple.

London tendering
Bus types such as Swifts and Fleetlines had short lives with London, but Routemasters sailed on into the colourful era of route tendering

London escaped deregulation. Instead route tendering was introduced, bringing with it an era of multi-coloured buses owned by a wide range of operators. Out went the rigid standardisation of the London Transport era. In came new buses and minibuses from manufacturers such as Volvo, Scania, Mercedes-Benz and Renault.

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